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How the American Electrical Grid is Like a 1966 Ford Mustang

1966 Ford Mustang, recently sold by North Shore Classics in Mundelein, IL. Photo courtesy of North Shore Classics.
1966 Ford Mustang, recently sold by North Shore Classics in Mundelein, IL. (Photo courtesy of North Shore Classics.)

Sooner or later, America will have to address its aging electrical grid. An increasing demand for power and new cyber-security threats have left the nation's grid vulnerable. Commentator Scott Carlberg says we need to upgrade and improve our electrical infrastructure for the future, because in many ways... that future is already here.


Our Electric Grid is a Classic, and Shouldn’t Be
By Scott Carlberg

My 1966 Mustang was fire engine red. I bought in the early 90s and had it for almost 20 years. I enjoyed doing simple repairs. Then it took more time and money to keep up. The Mustang and I parted. That was good for the car because it needed attention.

My Mustang and our electric grid are alike: High performing and lots of muscle in their day.

Maybe not so much anymore. The car and the electric grid deteriorate with time and use. Especially the grid right now.

New cars have GPS, sensors, great sound systems. A truly modern grid has two-way flow for flexible power, self-repair capabilities, and pairs-up with new generation technologies.

Our Kansas grid in some places is still a 66 Mustang. In the whole nation, really.

People are pushing for change. The US Department of Agriculture’s Kansas Rural Development Director points to more than $25 million for projects in counties such as Elsworth, Graham, Lincoln, and Russell Counties to help ensure rural Kansans have reliable electricity.

While this money is useful, it is a token amount compared to hundreds of billions, and some say trillions, to harden the U.S. grid.

It’s not just the cost, but parts. For instance, the supply chain of transformers for the grid is tight. The cost is up 20-50% since 2020; the time to get them from about 16 months to sometimes 39.

Finding transformers is to the power industry what toilet paper was to shoppers during the pandemic.

Grid wear and tear, parts, renewable generation, and increasing demand are stressors that reduce the reliability and quality, or voltage consistency, of electricity.

Bad actors don’t help. Direct physical attacks on the system rose 77% in 2022 compared to 2021.

Bottom line: The American Society of Civil Engineers gives our energy infrastructure a C- grade.

Just look around. Chicago has power quality issues, measuring voltage swings 10% from safe levels, says Bloomberg News. Louisiana, Florida, and Georgia see it, too. Homes outfitted with special sensors show a fault rate last year 18% higher than 2022’s average. That could mean appliance or house damage.

An aging grid is more than just “one more thing” to think about because so much of what we do hinges on a healthy electric system. … iPhone, microwaves, Ring doorbells, smart thermostats, laptops, and your lights.

Beyond the house, an unreliable grid’s economic costs in disruptions are some $150 billion annually says the Energy Department.

That’s the reality.

We are lulled into a false security because our grid has performed so well. Those days may be numbered, and will hit our daily lives, wallets, and patience.

Updating our energy system is like repairing that 1966 Mustang at 70 mph on the I-35. Fix it with your foot on the gas.

Here’s an interesting example of our infrastructure needs. A clean energy battery plant is being built in DeSoto, Kansas. Some claim the plant will need to be powered by coal plants. That’s a paradox I am sure will be addressed but belies the oddities faced as we update our power system.

In the end, there is no choice except when we make the updates. An improved grid is better than being way-laid at the side of the road with a good looking classic, like my ‘66 Mustang. Be ready to pay for repairs. ####

Commentator Scott Carlberg has worked in energy industry communications for more than 40 years. His career includes work with the petroleum industry and the electricity industry. He's also worked for research, nonprofit and higher education organizations. He lives in Leawood.